A Chess Game in Space

Ethan Wong

May 26, 2023

Recently, a game of chess was played by Mission Control and the International Space Station (ISS). As a chess enthusiast who refuses to play any opening with white other than the Catalan, the urge to unravel the game was almost immediate. Every day, a few moves would be played using 2 separate boards to keep track of the position. The ISS team ended up beating the players down on Earth, giving the astronauts a 1-0 lead in their series of games. This article will mainly be covering the history of chess in space, as commentating the battle through an article is idiotic. However, here are the moves: 

1. e3 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 e4 4. Ne5 Nxe5 5. dxe5 c6 6. Nc3 Qa5 7. Qd4 Bb4 8. Bd2 f6 9. exf6 Nxf6 10. a3 Bxc3 11. Bxc3 Qf5 12. O-O-O d5 13. f4 exf3 14. Bc4 fxg2 15. Bd3 gxh1=Q 16. Rxh1 Qg5 17. h4 Qg4 18. Qe5+ Qe6 19. Qg5 O-O 20. Rg1 Rf7 21. h5 Bd7 22. Bb4 Ne4 23. Qh4 b6 24. h6 c5 25. Bd2 g6 26. Qe1 Nxd2 27. Qxd2 d4 28. b3 dxe3 29. Qg2 Bc6 30. Bc4 Qf6 31. Bxf7+ Kf8 32. Qf1 Qa1#

One of the first activities that was brought along into space was chess. During flights on the Soyuz 3 and 4 capsules around the late 1960s, a chess board and pieces would be brought along. Because of zero gravity, the board had to have grooves all along the squares so the pieces could slide around without flying around everywhere, where technology could be damaged. On Soyuz 9, entering the 1970s, cosmonaut Vitaly Sevastyanov, astronaut Andriyan Nikolayev, and Nikolai Kamanen all played the tactic-filled board game during the flight. Vitaly Sevastyanov later became the President of the Soviet Union Chess Federation in 1977 after his enjoyable time playing. In 2020, the 50th anniversary of chess in space was celebrated with Grandmaster Sergey Karjakin and Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, where the game featured the Ruy Lopez opening with the exchange variation (Bb5, a6, bishop knight exchange with dxc6, white castle) and eventually ended in a draw. The cosmonauts ended up using an iPad to play moves while Karjakin played on a normal board, exchanging every move through radio. 

Nikolai vs. Vitaly Sevastyanov & Andriyan Nikolayev

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e3 e5 4. Bxc4 exd4 5. exd4 Nc6 6. Be3 Bd6 7. Nc3 Nf6 8. Nf3 O-O 9. O-O Bg4 10. h3 Bf5 11. Nh4 Qd7 12. Qf3 Ne7 13. g4 Bg6 14. Rae1 Kh8 15. Bg5 Neg8 16. Ng2 Rae8 17. Be3 Bb4 18. a3 Bxc3 19. bxc3 Be4 20. Qg3 c6 21. f3 Bd5 22. Bd3 b5 23. Qh4 g6 24. Nf4 Bc4 25. Bxc4 bxc4 26. Bd2 Rxe1 27. Rxe1 Nd5 28. g5 Qd6 29. Nxd5 cxd5 30. Bf4 Qd8 31. Be5+ f6 32. gxf6 Nxf6 33. Bxf6+ Rxf6 34. Re8+ Qxe8 35. Qxf6+ Kg8

GM Sergey Karjakin vs. Anatoly Ivanishin & Ivan Vagner

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. O-O Be6 6. b3 c5 7. Nxe5 Qd4 8. Nc4 Bxc4 9. bxc4 Qxa1 10. Nc3 b5 11. Qh5 Nf6 12. Qf3 b4 13. e5 O-O-O 14. Ba3 Qxf1+ 15. Kxf1 bxc3 16. exf6 cxd2 17. Qa8+ Kd7 18. Qd5+ Kc8 19. Qa8+ Kd7 20. Qd5+ Ke8 21. Qe4+ Kd7

In the U.S. years later, they decided to take chess up into space as well with the ISS. Greg Chamitoff played multiple games during 2008-2009 from the Space Shuttle in 2008 (flew STS 124, 126, 134) against Mission Control before transferring to the ISS to play more. The board wasn’t designed with slots, yet used traditional plastic chess pieces with velcro. They avoided magnet pieces, however, as the pieces could stick to electronic devices. Here are the moves from a game between Mission Control (black) and Greg Chamitoff (white): 

1. d4 d5 2. Nc3 c6 3. Bf4 Nf6 4. Nf3 Nbd7 5. e3 e6 6. Ne5 Qa5 7. Bd3 Nxe5 8. Bxe5 Ba3 9. Qc1 Bb4 10. O-O b6 11. a4 Ba6 12. Nb5 O-O 13. Bxf6 gxf6 14. c3 cxb5 15. Rd1 Rac8 16. axb5 Bxc3 17. Rxa5 Bxa5 18. Qb1 Bb7 19. b4 f5 20. bxa5 bxa5 21. Rc1 a4 22. Rxc8 Bxc8 23. Qb4 Bd7 24. Qxa4 Rc8 25. Qxa7 Rc1+ 26. Bf1 Bc8 27. b6 Kg7 28. b7 Bxb7 29. Qxb7 Kf6 30. f3 h6